Within an hour of Livingstone’s comments, a Labour spokeswoman said: “The terms of the defence review are still to be agreed but will not look at our membership of Nato.”
Livingstone told the BBC’s Daily Politics the review was intended to decide whether to back the renewal of Trident before a parliamentary vote this spring.
He said Labour’s position would be settled “if we’re lucky” before a House of Commons debate, although it was possible it could take until the summer.
On the issue of whether the UK should withdraw from Nato, Livingstone said: “That’s one of the things it will look at. There will be many people wanting to do that.
“My main view on this is it doesn’t matter whether you are in Nato or not terribly much because the cold war is over. The question is, if you are going to stay in Nato, what is its role going to be? Is it going to be invading more countries in the Middle East? I’m not in favour of that.”
This week the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, cleared the way for the party to adopt a position in support of unilateral nuclear disarmament by replacing the pro-Trident Maria Eagle with the anti-Trident Emily Thornberry as shadow defence secretary.
Thornberry is now the new co-convenor of the defence review with Livingstone. They will have to work quickly in order to make firm policy proposals before the government puts the renewal of Trident to a Commons vote in the next few months.
Corbyn stood for Labour leader on a platform that made clear his opposition to nuclear weapons. He has since said that as prime minister he would not push the button to use them.
Labour’s official policy, agreed by its party conference, is to support renewal of Trident, but Corbyn has hinted he might consult the membership to win support for changing the position – overriding the usual policymaking process.
Livingstone is against the renewal of Trident. He told the Daily Politics that many people would think the £41bn earmarked for Trident’s replacement could be better spent on flood defences to protect people hit by extreme weather over Christmas.
He said he still had an open mind about the result of the review, but added that he did not think Trident was “the best use of money”.
Livingstone said: “We’ve got to look at the facts. When Tony Blair said he wanted four new nuclear submarines, he was told it would cost £20bn. Now the government has set aside £41bn.”
Asked when Labour would have a firm position on Trident, he said: “If we’re lucky, it will be before David Cameron organises a vote in the House of Commons. Or it could take right through until the summer. We have got to do a lot of academic research.”
Thornberry, who said last year it was “not zany” to oppose the renewal of nuclear submarines, gave an interview to Forces TV shortly after her appointment as shadow defence secretary, saying she was “quite clear in what my views are in relation to Trident” but would not prejudge the conclusions of the review.
“I know that I need to do the review in an open-minded way, listening properly to the arguments and putting together a coherent policy that people can sign up to and bring people together on it,” she said.
Although Labour quickly denied that its defence review would consider leaving Nato, Livingstone’s comments were seized upon by Corbyn’s critics. Penny Mordaunt, the minister for the armed forces, said: “It’s deeply worrying that the Labour party believes Britain should leave Nato – an organisation that helps keep our country safe in an increasingly dangerous world. This is another reminder why Labour are a threat to our national security.”
The Labour MP John Woodcock, a vocal critic of Corbyn, said: “Even the laughably weak on defence Scottish National party don’t advocate leaving the protection of the Nato alliance. Ken Livingstone and his controller Jeremy Corbyn may have shown themselves deaf to reason this week, but even so I earnestly plead that they don’t send our great party down this road to oblivion.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th January 2016 14.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010